Infrastructure grants - EPSRC

Download the Infrastructure Grants peer review form.

GEN1: General

These notes are intended to provide reviewers with specific guidance for the completion of the reviewer form. They should be read in conjunction with the reviewer principles.

Specific guidance is available for each section of the report to be completed. A full justification for your assessment of the application should be provided. The prompts are given as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of an application. Please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to. You should note that your review will be sent back, unattributed, to the investigator, who will then be allowed the opportunity to comment on any factual errors and answer any specific queries you have raised.

EPSRC is committed to support the recommendations and principles set out by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. You should not use journal-based metrics, such as journal impact factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an investigator’s contributions, or to make funding decisions.

For the purpose of research assessment, please consider the value and impact of all research outputs (including datasets, software, inventions, patents, preprints and other commercial activities.) in addition to research publications. You should consider a broad range of impact measures, including qualitative indicators of research impact such as influence on policy and practice.

The content of a paper is more important than publication metrics or the identity of the journal in which it was published, especially for early-stage investigators. Therefore, you should not use journal impact factor (or any hierarchy of journals), conference rankings and metrics such as the H-index or i10-index when assessing UKRI grants.

GEN2: Assessment methodology

You are asked to assess the application or report against a number of criteria. These criteria vary according to the scheme or funding opportunity that the application has been submitted to. Prompts are provided as a reminder of those issues that are likely to be most significant in determining the overall merit of an application. A full justification for your assessment of the application should be included in each section. Please provide as full a response as you believe you are qualified to.

You are asked throughout to assess ‘the application’ but be clear that this means the ideas, concepts and approaches contained therein, and not the specific form of the document itself. The clarity of presentation may help or hinder your ability to review an application, so a comment to this effect would be appropriate, but this should not become in any form a competition in stylish writing. Elegance of presentation is not, of itself, an assessment criterion for an EPSRC grant.

There is no set way for answering questions on the form. However, prioritisation meetings generally find reviews most useful where they explicitly identify the main strengths and weaknesses in the application, while also giving a clear view on which should be accorded the greater significance and why. It is also a helpful technique to raise issues or concerns with the application in the form of explicit questions for the applicants. This makes it easier for the panel to assess how complete and convincing the applicant’s responses are.

GEN3: Ethics

It is important that EPSRC funds are used ethically and responsibly. This is mainly assured by requiring that universities have in place and operate appropriate ethical approval processes. Ethical considerations should not therefore normally be an assessment criterion and you should not take these into account when making your assessment.

If the application is in a subject or area that causes you serious personal concern, to the extent that you feel you cannot provide an objective review, you should decline to review the application giving the reason as ‘other’, and stating ‘ethical issues’ in the comment box. If you have a concern that the application raises ethical issues that have not been clearly identified or addressed, you should raise this directly with EPSRC, which will need to make a policy decision on how the application should be treated.

GEN4: Linked proposals

Where two or more applications have been formally linked to form a single research project, you are requested to submit a single review covering the project as a whole.

GEN5: Web links in the application

The application you are asked to review includes a case for support. In some instances, the case for support may include a link to a web site containing information on the research proposed. Reviewers are not required to consider this additional information when providing comments on an application. If you do choose to look at this information, it is possible that your anonymity to the applicant will be compromised.

GEN10: Flexible working

It is important that researchers and their research teams are able to work flexibly and in a way that meets their personal circumstances. EPSRC therefore allows applicants to tailor the support that they request in order to facilitate this. This might include, for example:

  • part-time working for the principal investigator, co-investigators, post-doctoral research assistants, technicians or wider team costed on a grant
  • support for costs over and above standard care arrangements to allow the principal investigator or their team to attend activities associated with the grant (for example conferences) where costs cannot be met by the employer
  • support for other adjustments and adaptations that may be needed due to the personal or health circumstances of the principal investigator or their team.

You should also consider the unequal impact that flexible working, alternative career routes and career breaks might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal. Flexible working includes, but is not limited to, reduction in full-time hours, long-term partial return to work, job sharing, compressed working hours, term-time only working, annualised hours.

Where applicants wish to include details on flexible working or a career break for reviewers to take into account in their assessment, they are not required to explain the personal circumstances that resulted in the need for this. Instead, they should describe the impacts on an individual’s track record and career development. Where reference has been made to a period of flexible working or a career break, you should recognise that this is likely to affect productivity and career development, for example publication record, track record of securing funding, or the ability to build networks or to take up opportunities in a different geographical location. You should also consider that this unequal impact may continue beyond the return to work. As such, the focus should be on the stated impact rather than the duration.

GEN11: Impact of COVID-19 on track record and career development

EPSRC recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities and is committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career such as breaks and delays, disruptive working patterns and conditions, the loss of ongoing work, and role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic.

When undertaking your assessment of the research project, you should consider the unequal impacts of the impact that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal, and you should focus on the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

EPSRC acknowledges that it is a challenge for applicants to determine the future impacts of COVID-19 while the pandemic continues to evolve. Applicants have been advised that their applications should be based on the information available at the point of submission and, if applicable, the known application specific impacts of COVID-19 should be accounted for.

Where known impacts have occurred, these should have been highlighted in the application, including the assumptions and information at the point of submission. Applicants were not required to include contingency plans for the potential impacts of COVID-19. Requests for travel both domestically and internationally could be included in accordance with the relevant scheme guidelines, noting the above advice.

When undertaking your assessment of the research project, you should assess the project as written, noting that any changes that the project might require in the future, which arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, will be resolved as a post-award issue by UKRI if the project is successful. Potential complications related to COVID-19 should not affect your assessment or the score you give the project.

GEN12: Matched funding

EPSRC does not assess the presence or value of any matched funding provided by the university before making a funding decision. Unless specified in the call or scheme guidance documentation, EPSRC does not require matched funding, either cash or in kind, to secure funding.

EPSRC assessment processes, including expert reviewing and panels, may acknowledge the impact of university contributions, but will not consider the level of matched university funding as a factor on which to base funding decisions.

Particularly with the increased pressures of COVID-19, EPSRC would like to stress to assessors that any cash or in kind support from the university for a grant is regarded as a benefit to building partnerships but is not expected to equate to cash or its equivalent (for example, provision of studentships, secondments, training and access to equipment).

EXC5: Quality and breadth of the research to be enabled

Primary criterion

The applicants must articulate an overall vision for the requested equipment and provide details of the novel science enabled by the equipment. It should be clearly stated where the capability of the equipment could lead to new science, taking into consideration the key scientific questions and research that the applicants and user base cannot currently achieve with existing equipment.

The expected outputs from the research enabled by the equipment should result in a significant step change, with major impact on the research area beyond the immediate team, and appreciably raise the UK’s international profile.

Please comment on the quality and breadth of the engineering and physical sciences research that the requested equipment will enable, making reference to:

  • the novelty, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders including users
  • the transformative aspects or potential outcomes that will be enabled
  • the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact.

(For multidisciplinary proposals, please state which aspects of the proposal you feel qualified to assess.)

IMP4: Strategic importance

Secondary major criterion

Applicants should present evidence that the requested equipment is strategically important to and will benefit a diverse user base. A discussion should be provided setting out how the infrastructure fits into the regional and national landscape of similar equipment. The applicant should articulate the university’s strategy for capital investment and how the requested equipment aligns to this vision.

Please comment on the strength of the strategic case made in terms of both national and institutional needs, making reference to how the equipment sought:

  • meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique or world leading activity
  • complements and enhances regional or national research capability, including relationships to the EPSRC equipment and research portfolio.

Please comment on the appropriateness of:

  • the evidence of strong demand and community needs from a diverse and inclusive user base
  • the proposed alternative approaches to how the research would be achieved should the equipment not be funded.

APP12: Applicant and host institution

Secondary criterion

The applicant should provide details to demonstrate that the team has the appropriate skills to procure and manage the requested equipment. The applicant should also articulate why the institution is appropriate to host the equipment, including the added value from existing equipment, technical support or infrastructure.

Please comment on the applicant’s ability to effectively operate the requested equipment, making reference to:

  • the appropriateness of the track record of the applicant
  • the balance of skills of the team, including collaborators
  • why the host institution provides the most appropriate location and how use of existing inventory is effectively complemented.

MAN4: Management of the Equipment

Secondary Criterion

You are asked to comment on the arrangements for managing the proposed equipment. These should be proportionate to the scale and complexity of the activity to be undertaken. In addition to the more general management issues you should also comment on the effectiveness of the operational arrangements for the proposed equipment.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to comment on the effectiveness of the proposed planning and management, making reference to:

  • the workplan and associated risks
  • plans for prioritising access and maximising usage of the equipment.

RES3: Resources

Secondary criterion

Applicants are required to identify on the application form all resources required to undertake the project, and to clearly explain the need for these in the justification of resources appended to the case for support. You should comment on how well this has been done, on the appropriateness of the resources requested, and on how sensible and justified the quoted equipment costs are. You should draw attention to anything in your view that has been requested but not justified or, conversely, needed but not identified. With the exception of the equipment quotes, your assessment should be based on the resources sought and not on the costs derived from them.

Please comment on whether the requested equipment and resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, making reference to:

  • the appropriateness and justification of costs for the equipment
  • the appropriateness and justification of resource costs (such as staff and maintenance)
  • the appropriateness of any contributions from the host and any collaborators
  • any resources requested for activities to expand the user base, increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation.

INF2: Sustainability

Secondary major criterion

The applicant should articulate appropriate plans for ensuring the future sustainability of the infrastructure. Plans should cover all aspects of sustainability including staff and the user base, not just that of the equipment.

Please comment on the appropriateness of the proposed plans towards making the equipment or facility sustainable. Consider how realistic the plans are for:

  • the recovery of running costs (maintenance, repairs, consumables, staff time) during and beyond the lifetime of the grant
  • the appropriateness of the charging model
  • the support and development of the specialist technical staff beyond the lifetime of the grant period
  • sustaining and evolving a diverse and inclusive user base beyond the lifetime of the grant and any ‘free at point of access’ period.

ASS2: Overall assessment – part assessment

It may be that you feel you can only comment with authority on a specific part or component of an application, for example with a multidisciplinary project, or perhaps where there is a strong user-led element. In that case you should identify those aspects that you are able to comment on, and then give your review on just those aspects. Different reviewers will have been asked to cover those aspects you cannot, and the panel will then have the job of integrating these different comments. It is particularly important therefore that the panel have clear advice on the merits of each component. Your comments, scores and confidence level should explicitly reflect your views on those aspects you can assess, and you are asked not to moderate these in any way to reflect those areas you feel you cannot comment on.

A risk with part assessment is that it will miss the added value of the overall project (the whole ideally being greater than the sum of the parts) so even where you can only comment with authority on one aspect, it will be helpful to the panel to have your views on how compelling the arguments for the overall application are. Other issues you might also comment on are the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the collaboration, the value of the contribution of the component you can judge, and the significance of this in terms of future potential development in your own field.

ASS3: Overall assessment – overall score

You should assign a score using the six-point scale provided. This should reflect your overall conclusion, and should be consistent with your comments on the individual sections of your review, taking account of all the assessment criteria and the various weightings you applied.

The six levels of the scoring scale are as follows.

  1. This application is scientifically or technically flawed
  2. This application does not meet one or more of the assessment criteria
  3. This application meets all assessment criteria but with clear weaknesses
  4. This is a good application that meets all assessment criteria but with minor weaknesses
  5. This is a strong application that broadly meets all assessment criteria
  6. This is a very strong application that fully meets all assessment criteria.

ASS4: Level of confidence

To assist the prioritisation panel in reaching their overall conclusion on the application, and to help EPSRC in monitoring the effectiveness of its reviewer selection procedures, you are asked to indicate your confidence in your review. This should report your own confidence, or otherwise, in being able to make your assessment rather than your confidence in the success of the application if it were funded. If, for any reason, you feel that you are not able to assess the application, please advise EPSRC accordingly.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to score their confidence as low, medium or high.

ASS6: Overall assessment

You should provide your overall assessment of the application. Think of this as your report to the prioritisation panel, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses you identified in the individual questions and then making a clear and explicit recommendation about whether or not you believe the application warrants funding.

Not all questions carry equal weighting. Research quality (excellence) will always be pre-eminent, and no application can be funded without clearly demonstrating this aspect. Strategic importance and sustainability should also be major considerations in making your assessment. The weighting between the remaining aspects will depend on the specific nature of the particular application. You should indicate those aspects that you accorded higher or lower priority and why.

The reviewer form asks reviewers to summarise their view of the application.

Last updated: 12 April 2022

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